Category: Politics (EN)

The power of Free Trade Agreements – European companies saved EUR 600 million in just a year

January 30th, 2013 — 12:17pm

It is always interesting to see the actual effects of Free Trade Agreements. In 2011 the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement came into effect. After a parliamentary question by Austrian MEP Hans-Peter Martin the European Commission revealed how much money the FTA saved European companies just within the first year:

It is indeed estimated that over the first nine months of the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) (i.e. from 1 July 2011 until the end of March 2012), EU firms already saved EUR 350 million in duties. Over the first twelve months of the Agreement, under a conservative assumption, duties saved on EU’s exports to South Korea amounted to around EUR 600 million.

Korean companies didn’t profit to the same degree, but still saved an impressive amount:

Member States shall retain, by way of collection costs, 25 % of the amounts of customs duties. Elimination of customs duties, resulting from reduced or abolished import duties [for South Korean companies], are estimated to amount to EUR 340 million over the first nine months and EUR 465 million over the first 12 months.

Of course this has positive effects on the economy. The Commission estimated that just an FTA with Japan would boost the European Economy by nearly one percent.

But there is also a down side to all this:

Customs duties on imports from outside of the EU are a source of revenue for the EU budget.

The EU, by agreeing more FTAs, cuts one of its own sources of revenue and increases the dependence on member states. Still there is a push for more FTAs, among them one between the U.S. and the EU – if signed it could truly change the shape of the world economy.

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A potential for political pressure and blackmail of officials – Microsoft’s Home Use Program in the European Parliament

March 23rd, 2012 — 6:47pm

After Erik Josefsson, Adviser on Internet Policies for the Greens, brought up the Microsoft “Home Use Program” in the email list of the European Parliament Free Software User’s Group (EPFSUG) (an independent group of European Parliament (EP) staffers and outside supporters) a lively debate started about the rights and wrongs of this program. What is the Home Use Program? Verbatim from the EP intranet pages:

An enterprise contract with Microsoft —which entered into force on 1 June 2011— entitles the European Parliament to the additional benefits covered by the Software Assurance (SA) Membership Program. One of these benefits is the Home Use Program (HUP), whereby the European Parliament staff members are allowed to obtain a copy of certain products from Microsoft which they are licensed to install on their home computers.

[The full text of the intranet page on the HUP is available in the EPFSUG email archive, in Erik's initial mail on the topic]

While that is common for businesses, in a political context, where the dependence on Microsoft products is already rubbing hard against supposedly independent and free legislation, this program, where staff just get something for free because they happen to work for the European Parliament (and, I presume the program also applies for staff of other EU entities) bears an especially unpleasant stench. It is not unheard of to see conference or event invitations where participants pay several thousand Euro unless they are policy officials (for a long list of recent invitations for free events that just one MEP received see here). But that every single one of the several thousand staff in the EP – which, after all, do most of the “content work” in the EP – receives a free-but-strings-attached copy of Microsoft software shouldn’t be taken lightly. Continue reading »

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn “declines” to speak at the European Parliament

March 22nd, 2012 — 12:22am

As I wrote yesterday, within the European Parliament a planned attendance of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF, faced some opposition in the EP. It seems the campaign against his appearance reached its goal: the event, formerly featuring Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), Jean-Claude Juncker and Jean-Claude Trichet now only features the latter two. Without much ado a new version of the invitation was sent around:


Continue reading »

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Secrecy and lobbying still surround nuclear power – three steps to better science

March 20th, 2012 — 9:05pm

The nuclear lobby is highly successful in keeping risks and problems with nuclear power secret. The in-depth AlJazeera article, “Nuclear safety: A dangerous veil of secrecy” is still is spot on, even half a year after its publication:

As recently as early August, those seeking information on the real extent of the damage at the Daiichi plant and on the extent of radioactive contamination have mostly beenreassured by the nuclear community that there’s no needto worry.

This is troubling because while both anti-nuclear activists and the nuclear lobby both have openly stated biases, academics and researchers are seen as the middle ground – a place to get accurate, unbiased information.

David Biello, the energy and climate editor at Scientific American Online, said that trying to get clear information on a scenario such as the Daiichi disaster is tough. Continue reading »

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn is not very welcome in the European Parliament

March 20th, 2012 — 6:30pm

After facing anounced protests during his appearance at Cambridge University (see e.g. Newsoasis, Cambridge-News) the French former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is also not welcome by everybody in the European Parliament (EP). The panel, where Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) is supposed ot debate with Jean-Claude Juncker and Jean-Claude Trichet about the Financial Crisis is jointly organised by the organisations “EU40“, “Friends of Europe” and “Debating Europe” and scheduled for the 27th of March 2012.

The Guardian neatly sums up the accusations against DSK:

DSK, as he is known in France, quit the IMF last May amid claims that he sexually assaulted a maid, Nafissatou Diallo, 32, at a hotel in Manhattan. He denied the allegation. US prosecutors dropped criminal charges against him in August, but Diallo is pursuing a civil action against him.

The pre-trial hearing is to be held on 28 March, when Strauss-Kahn is due to be summoned by judges in France over allegations concerning a suspected prostitution ring.

The Socialist party veteran has also been accused by a French writer, Tristane Banon, 32, of attempting to rape her in 2003, but French prosecutors decided there would be no charges because sufficient evidence was lacking for a rape prosecution. On another potential charge, sexual assault – where prosecutors said they saw the evidence as more likely grounds for a charge – France’s three-year time limit for prosecution had by 2011 passed

Continue reading »

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A misguided push for more privatisation of the number one public good

March 13th, 2012 — 6:52pm

In a rather scary article, published in New Europe and his blog, journalist David Cronin describes how a strong pro-privatisation view in the  European Commission (the administrative body of the European Union that churns out most draft regulations), which favours the privatisation of water systems in Europe and beyond, is maintained by heavy lobbying and industry interests. Cronin concludes:

Despite the abundant evidence that water privatisation is immoral and impractical, the EU’s power brokers remain committed to it. Before Italy was taken over by an unelected prime minister last year, it was told by the similarly anti-democratic European Central Bank to undertake “large-scale privatisations” to local services. As part of the counterproductive shock therapy being introduced in Greece, the water provider in Thessaloniki, EYATH, has been targeted for sale by this coming September.

We should not be under any illusions about the effects of these measures. Some services are too important to be run by fickle entrepreneurs; that is why they must be kept in public hands, even though they are expensive to run. When put at the whim of market forces, the quality of those services inevitably declines, prices go up and human rights are denied. Why should corporations control every aspect of our lives? Continue reading »

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AI: China might legalise human rights violations; must be stopped

March 8th, 2012 — 11:43am

A new AI press release (not yet now also available on the AI website) gives a very dangerous about where China might be headed: So far many of the practices violating human rights and basic freedoms are at least in theory not legal in the country, leaving hope that this might someday also become reality. But if the suggested changes were implemented China would be on its way to become even more restrictive.

The full press release:


China must not legalize “disappearances” and ‘two-track justice’

A major overhaul of China’s criminal procedure law could legalize “disappearances” of people deemed “subversive” by the state through a dangerous extension of police power, Amnesty International said. Continue reading »

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Chinese uncertainty

February 28th, 2012 — 7:30pm

TIME Correspondent Michael Schuman has an interesting take in his article “Why China Will Have an Economic Crisis”

Chinese bureaucrats today suffer from the same problem that led Japanese bureaucrats astray — they believe the economy can be managed by fiat. The tools of classical economics — getting prices right — are secondary. Why guide an economy with abstract measures like interest rates when you can just tell the banks what to do?

That attitude is what killed Japan’s economic miracle, and now I see China slipping toward the same fate. Japan could not escape the forces of basic mathematics. China can’t either, no matter how brilliant its policymakers might be. When would a meltdown happen? It is interesting to play with a bit of history. Both Japan and Korea suffered their crises roughly 35 years after the Asian development model was switched on — the early 1950s to ’89 in Japan, and 1962 to ’97 in Korea. That puts a China crisis at around 2014-15 or so. I’m not predicting a firm date here. What I am saying is that China is running out of time to fix the problems of its economy. Continue reading »

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European Commission: Embargo on Syrian Oil is effective

February 24th, 2012 — 7:14pm

A German version of this post is here.

The EU agreed at the end of last year due to the civil war-like conditions in Syria  - ongoing violent suppression of protests and opposition voices –  to implement an embargo on imports of syrian oil. Currently the city of Homs, centre of the opposition movement, is under siege by government forces with tanks and artillery and the conflict already cost somewhere between 5400 and 7000 lives.

Now the High Representative and Vice President of the European Commission, Catherine Ashton, responded to written question E-010619/2011 by the MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Hans-Peter Martin. In her answer she provides an evaluation of the current results and achievements of the embargo that is worth a read.

To make the text easier to follow I arranged Martin’s questions next to the relevant part of Ashton’s answer:


The EU has placed an embargo on crude oil and certain crude-oil products from Syria. Given the worldwide demand for crude oil, however, it is possible that Syria will find other outlets and thus minimise the damage to its economy.

What effects does the Commission expect the embargo to have? What criteria will be used to measure its success in the future?


Several factors indicate that the EU ban on imports from the Syrian oil sector is having a serious effect since the Syrian regime is heavily dependent on income related to oil revenues, thus contributing to the objective of the EU policy to pressure the Syrian regime to stop its brutal repression against the Syrian people. Continue reading »

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Protests against Tamil Nadu’s Koodankulam nuclear power plant force construction to halt

February 23rd, 2012 — 7:20pm

As Deutsche Welle (DW) reports:

Villagers in the town of Kudankulam, around 650 km from the state capital Chennai, have hardened their stand against the construction of two atomic power reactors. They are not convinced by the government’s repeated assurances of the safety of the upcoming atomic reactors.

[...] protests by villagers have forced the suspension of work at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) in southern India.

Koodankulam (the German spelling is with a ‘u’ instead of ‘oo’), in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, is just 50km from one of India’s top tourist destinations, the southernmost tip of the subcontinent, Kanyakumari. Continue reading »

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